Free Agency Screams Super Bowl or Bust

Jackson (Mary Langenfield - USA Today Sports)

For Ted Thompson, re-signing Greg Jennings and signing Steven Jackson would be his boldest moves. Under Thompson, the Packers almost never sign a big-name free agent or spend big money on players approaching the big three-zero. The ramifications are enormous.

If the Green Bay Packers ultimately wind up keeping Greg Jennings and acquiring Steven Jackson, it will be the boldest moves Ted Thompson has made as the team's general manager.

When he signed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett in 2006, the Packers were a bad team that needed an influx of proven talent. In 2013, the Packers have loads of proven talent. They're just two years removed from winning a Super Bowl, a year removed from winning 15 games and are the dominant team in the NFC North.

For Thompson, this would be a huge step outside the box, and not just because he'd be rolling the dice in free agency (Jackson) and not just because he'd be lavishing money on a player nearing his 30th birthday (Jennings).

Rather, Thompson has built this roster with one eye on keeping the roster stocked with young talent and another eye on giving the team perpetual salary-cap space to keep that young talent in place.

Re-signing Jennings and signing Jackson would run counter to those beliefs. At about $17.76 million below the salary cap, those signings would take up a sizable chunk of that money. Jennings alone probably would take up half of that number. Either that, or Thompson would be kicking the salary-cap can down the road and stressing future caps. However you slice it, neither way has been his style.

The method might be different but it's hardly madness. The Packers are an elite team but they were outclassed by San Francisco twice last season. Seattle, already a rising power, got better by acquiring Percy Harvin. Atlanta is an established NFC power. And the division is excellent, with Minnesota reaching the playoffs last season, Chicago signing excellent left tackle Jermon Bushrod to solve a chronic long-term need, and Detroit making the playoffs in 2011.

No such proclamations would ever be made, but this would be Thompson practically screaming "Super Bowl or bust!" For years, Thompson has positioned the Packers to be contenders for the long haul. But if Thompson is tying up big money on two players who are on the down side of their careers, it's a pretty clear indication that Thompson wants to win — and win now.

And why not? Aaron Rodgers is at the height of his powers and most of the pieces are in place. The Packers have been prolific on offense without a quality runner the past three seasons. Just imagine the possibilities with Jackson the lone back in a four-receiver set meant to spread the field — a set with Jennings on the field rather than Jarrett Boykin, by the way. The defense is merely a playmaker or two from getting that unit back to being of championship caliber.

Moreover, Thompson is 60 years old. He's still going strong but he also must understand that his career clock is winding down. Lots of general managers have won one Super Bowl. Not nearly as many have won two. It's merely speculation, but perhaps Thompson looks to his friend and mentor Ron Wolf, a man who should be in the Hall of Fame but isn't because he won just the one Super Bowl in Green Bay. Maybe, just maybe, the low-key, stay-out-of-the-limelight Thompson has his legacy in mind.

The gamble, of course, is that these signings wind up being a colossal waste of money. Jennings has missed 11 games over the previous two seasons. He went from four consecutive seasons of at least 16.2 yards per reception to 14.2 in 2011 and just 10.2 in 2012. Jackson, with a limited workload because of the passing emphasis on offense, probably would remain productive for 2013. His 4.1 yards per carry and 8.4 yards per catch last season were in line with his career averages (4.2 and 8.2, respectively), but with a running back approaching his 30th birthday, you never know.

As one general manager told me a couple years ago, any signing made today probably means a signing you can't make in a year or two. Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji are entering their final years under contract, as are Jermichael Finley, Ryan Pickett, James Jones, Morgan Burnett, Mike Neal and Marshall Newhouse. Something must be done with Rodgers, who is almost laughably underpaid.

If the money is spent but the Packers don't get a championship return on investment, the ability of this team to be serious contenders down the road will be compromised. On the other hand, if Jennings and Jackson help deliver another Super Bowl, then the bitter taste of any future cap concerns will be washed down by another sip of championship champagne.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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